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Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests, sometimes called “roadside tests,” are used by the police in almost every DUI arrest. There are several different field sobriety tests (FSTs) that are used in Colorado. The most common are the Walk and Turn, the One Leg Stand, and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN) – in which you are asked to watch the tip of a pen move from side to side. You are not legally required to perform any of these roadside tests. If you decline them, an experienced DUI attorney will show the jury why these tests are designed with a bias against you, the driver. Let’s face it – there are plenty of reasons, besides alcohol or drugs, why you might have trouble standing on one foot, with one foot out six inches in front of you, for thirty seconds, while you’re standing next to a busy road – and an officer who is intent on arresting you.

The police officer must strictly follow the procedures for administering the roadside tests in order for the results to be considered reliable in court. An obvious example of a police officer’s mistake would be if the officer asks you to follow the tip of a pen while you are facing the flashing lights of his cruiser. Naturally, in such a case, erratic eye movements should not be considered reliable evidence of DUI impairment. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has provided guidelines for police to follow when giving a battery of roadside tests. The officer is supposed to give you specific instructions, demonstrate for you the maneuver you are being asked to perform, and score you in an objective (not subjective) way. The police often make mistakes, or simply choose to ignore these guidelines. An experienced DUI lawyer will show the jury why those mistakes undermine the reliability of the police officer’s conclusion that you failed the test. In a sense, your lawyer will show the jury that the officer failed the tests.

Many Colorado police agencies use roadside tests that are not considered part of the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This means that they are using tests that the federal government considers unreliable. In addition, police will often testify to their own subjective opinion of “satisfactory” performance, rather than using an objective “point assessment” scoring recommended by NHTSA. An officer might make your performance sound terrible with his testimony, yet his testimony might only objectively score 2 out of 9 possible points against you (on a given test). Your DUI attorney will show the jury why strict adherence to the federal standards is so important. The burden of proof is on the prosecution and the police. You should not suffer a wrongful conviction because the police officer’s mistakes have led to faulty evidence being presented against you.